|TEAM VETERAN LEADER ...ARMED FORCES ECO-CHALLENGE|
||Team VVnW Journal:
Armed Forces Eco Challenge
7 August 02:
For only the second time since the team’s inception, Team VVnW Adventure Racing reunited at the Fairbanks International Airport. They were enroute to embrace the challenge that would be the Armed Forces Eco Challenge 2002.
SFC Bob Haines and 1LT Samantha Khoo had endured the long flight from Hawaii, CPT Marc Hoffmeister and CPT Mike Tschanz had arrived from Denver, CO. All came burdened by the nervous excitement of those confronting the unknown. The team had a varied background in adventure racing; Marc and Mike had competed in several sprint and short races, Bob had competed in two sprint races, Sam had never entered an adventure race but had an extensive background in triathlon competitions. This was to be the first long distance adventure race they had entered. They were united by the common goal to complete the Armed Forces Eco Challenge, a brutal five-day multi sport race across approximately 250 miles of the rugged Alaskan landscape. The prize? A chance to do it all over again for an even longer period of time in the Eco Challenge-Fiji in October 2002.
The real reason they chose
to compete went far beyond the questionable prize. They raced in support of the Tragedy Assistance Program for
Survivors (TAPS, Inc.) and they raced in memory of CPT Humbert
“Rocky” Versace. The Tragedy
Assistance Program for Survivors, Inc. (TAPS) is America's national
non-profit Veteran Service Organization made up of, and providing
services at no cost to, all those who have suffered the loss of a loved
one in the Armed Forces. The heart of TAPS is its national military
survivor peer support network called SurvivorLINK, which brings together
the families, friends and coworkers of those who are suffering a loss.
TAPS also offers bereavement counseling referral, provides caseworker
assistance that carries the work of the casualty assistance officers
into the future.
CPT “Rocky” Versace was executed on 26 September 1965 while held as a prisoner of war by the Viet Cong. Throughout his career and culminating during his captivity, CPT Versace epitomized the qualities of personal courage, honor, and selfless service that our nation and our military hold in highest regard. Despite extreme hardship, torture, and physical duress, CPT Versace never bent to the will of his captors. Through two years of captivity, he stubbornly refused to compromise the U.S. military Code of Conduct for prisoners of war, rejected all indoctrination efforts by his captors, inspired his fellow POWs (which included then-1LT Nick Rowe) to actively resist, and attempted to escape four times-even while suffering from debilitating injuries. He died for what he believed in and, as stated by fellow POW SFC Pitzer, “he valued that one moment of honor more than he would a lifetime of compromises.” General William C. Westmoreland stated that CPT Versace’s “courage, his stubborn and even vehement rejection of the Viet Cong’s indoctrination efforts and his insistence that fellow prisoners be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention marked him as a soldier and leader of extraordinary heroism. The conditions of his captivity were brutal. Only a man of deeply-rooted character could have performed as he did.” For his actions, CPT Versace has been inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame and, on 8 July 02, his family received his posthumous award of the Medal of Honor, which was first recommended in 1967. CPT Versace’s family had learned of his loss through a television newscast in 1965. His body was never recovered. They were exposed to years of grief and revisited by a 30-year political battle to ensure he received the Medal of Honor - the recognition that he justly deserved. Their trials exemplify the importance of organizations such as TAPS to ensure our families are cared for in the event of our loss. The team prayed to carry CPT Versace’s strength of character, his unwavering commitment and his tenacity in the face of extreme hardship as their personal guidon throughout this event.
8-9 August 02: Rehearsals/Skill Review
The team spent two days of nervous energy organizing their gear, practicing transition drills between different events and getting to know each other a little better. Mountain Bikes were tuned, pack rafts were inflated and inspected, food bags and aid kits prepped and required gear was inventoried. The nutrition plan was reviewed and the team packaged their supplements from BioForm Technologies into quick access day bags. BioForm Technologies had chosen to sponsor the team in the few weeks prior to the race and had provided some excellent nutritional consultation and supplements to help deal with the physical demands and sleep deprivation of the racecourse. The team also conducted refresher training on swift water swimming and rescue techniques, rope climbing and descending skills, and mountain bike assembly and disassembly.
10 August 02: Certification
Team VVnW conducted certification at the Chena River Recreation Center. The team rotated through stations where they were required to demonstrate skills to be used on the racecourse. Mountain biking, fixed rope travel, rappelling, pack rafting, swift water rescue, navigation, fire starting, media interviews, first aid, and mandatory equipment were all inspected and evaluated by race officials. The team moved quickly through the stations and successfully met all requirements. During the certification, race officials informed them of several changes. Less mountaineering gear was required and racers would have to rappel using only the organization specified technique. The team was issued a GPS to use to mark locations in the event of an emergency, but no emergency radios would be issued. While this meant a lighter pack, it also placed the responsibility for any rescues entirely on the team. If things went wrong up in the mountains, there would be no one out there to help them but themselves until they could reach a manned checkpoint. The team also closely observed other teams, assessing the different gear and techniques used and comparing it to their own. By the day’s end, the confidence of the team had heightened. They had trained hard and were prepared for what lay ahead.
11 August 02:
After loading gearboxes and bike boxes into transport trucks, all competing teams piled together into two Air Force Blue Bird buses enroute to complete an environmental project to support the community of Delta Junction. The mood was light as teams interacted for the first time. War stories were swapped and nervous anticipation filled the air during the 100-mile trip to the town of Delta Junction. At Delta, the teams worked together to clear brush and undergrowth from a local sports field. Chainsaws and brush cutters ripped quickly through the growth. The competitors embraced the task with motivation charged by months of waiting and preparation. They were ready for action and this environmental project marked the last official requirement before the start of the race. Delta Junction was more than pleased with the end results. Following lunch in Delta Junction, teams completed the trip to Ft Greeley.
Teams were staged in the hangar at the airfield on Ft Greeley for the last night before the race. This was the same location as last year and the veterans of the 2001 race immediately felt at home. Everyone launched into final gear checks. When credible information was leaked that mountain biking would be the first event, bike boxes were torn into and the hangar and airfield were soon filled with the buzz of freshly assembled and tuned mountain bikes, followed by a spaghetti feast provided by race management.
Early in the evening, team captains were summoned for the race briefing. Soon after, team captains began to drift back into the hangar to huddle with their teams over freshly issued piles of maps. Routes were poured over in an attempt to control the direction fate would push them on the racecourse.
With maps and gear packed, repacked, tweaked, prepped, readied, then readied again, teams crawled into tents sprawled along the side of the hangar to grab a last bit of restless sleep before race day arrived.
12 August 02:
Morning came all too soon. Competitors were greeted by a high carb grab and go breakfast and a gentle morning sprinkle. Roman Dial gathered racers for some final words. Bikes were lined up across the tarmac where teams would soon rush to them in the frenzy of a Le Man’s start. Just before 0900 hrs, the count down began. In a sudden rush, they were off. Teams sprinted for their bikes jockeying for position. Team VVnW shot out across the field, leading the pack into the first of many many miles.
Teams raced north out of the airfield, touched the Richardson Highway, turned east across Jarvis Creek, then shot south along a well-groomed dirt road through the Greeley Military Reservation. Two groups quickly formed. Approximately 10 teams comprised the lead group. Team VVnW maintained the pace for the first several miles. Gradually, Team Speedy Brat and Allied Spirit pulled past them. The rivalry between the 1st and 2nd place teams from 2001 was obvious as they aggressively pushed at each other, alternately pulling and drafting. Team Tri West Army gave chase. As the miles added up teams alternately fell back or pulled ahead. Team VVnW pulled into PC1 at Butch Lake in 4th place, 9 minutes behind the leaders, Team Allied Spirit and 22 miles into the route.
The trail turned east then north following an ATV trail parallel to Granite Creek. The terrain varied from sodden tundra, mud holes, dead fall and hard pack single track, much to the pleasure of the more technical mountain bikers on the team. Up to this point, VVnW had had no real mechanicals and only a few tundra tumbles, but had maintained their pace but dropped one position to fifth place. Halfway to PC 2, Marc broke a chain. The chain was repaired within a few minutes, but in the short time, 7 teams passed VVnW, showing the tightness of the bike field. With the chain repaired, VVnW launched an aggressive sprint to regain ground. VVnW arrived into PC2 at 1346 hrs and had regained several places to move into 7th place after approximately 34 miles of trail.
The team grabbed some food and quickly got back on trail, traveling generally northwest on the Alaska Highway. Spying a backcountry store on the opposite side of the road, VVnW saw the opportunity to refill water bladders and crossed into the parking lot. They weren’t the first team with this idea. Two teams had already gained permission from the owner to use the hose in the back of the building to fill their water. As Team VVnW refilled, two more teams came in with the same idea. Back on trail, the route backtracked over an earlier section and passed back through Greeley airfield then continued south paralleling the Delta River. The team dropped two places and arrived at Bolio Lake, PC3, at 1728 hrs having covered 62 miles and holding in 9th place. From PC3, VVnW continued south along numerous roads and trails. The rain had built steadily and the temperature dropped as the day progressed. They ran into only one other team during this section but were motivated by the sighting of several teams (and several Moose!) ahead of them struggling up the several steep hills presented by this leg.
By PC4, the rain was steady and heavy and the temperature now hovered in the mid 40’s. Team VVnW remained in 9th place at PC4, arriving at 1957 hrs. From PC4, the team battled heavy rains and bone-numbing cold as they raced exposed down the Richardson Highway. The distance was short to the next PC, however, and they pulled into the resupply point, PC5, at 2025 hrs having moved up to 8th place and covering approximately 88 miles of varied terrain.
PC5 marked a transition to mountaineering and pack rafting. From here the team would be required to conduct a ferry crossing of the Delta River via pack rafts, trek approximately 30 miles through the unique terrain and tundra of the Alaskan wilderness and then return back to the same transition point by pack rafting north 6 miles on the Delta River. The temperature had continued to drop. The rainfall had swollen the river and the heavy current had already claimed its first victim. Team ARSOF-Lilly, enroute to PC6 where they would have initiated a crossing of the main branch of the Delta, was required to cross a smaller tributary. The waters had risen substantially and the current was strong. As the team crossed, one team member was swept into a strainer, a collection of logs mid river, and their pack raft was torn. The racer was safely rescue by a fellow team member. Due to the loss of mandatory equipment, the team was disqualified.
Team VVnW took some time to eat and prep gear for the next leg. Donning dry suits and loading pack rafts, they left PC 5 at 2223 hrs. Race officials had informed them that teams were taking only 15 to 30 minutes to reach PC 6 and they planned on gaining PC 6 before darkness, where they would make the decision on weather it was safe to cross the main channel. In reality teams were taking an hour or more. The distance to PC6 was slightly less than a mile, but it would require the team to cross the same branch that had claimed ARSOF-Lilly, only now, the waters were even higher with the continued rainfall.
As VVnW worked up the shoreline, they could see a team in the distance. Suddenly shouts filled the air. Two racers could be seen sprinting alongside the channel. Something was obviously wrong. A member of Team Marines had capsized and the racer was being swept rapidly down the near freezing river. Her team mates had attempted to recover her with throw ropes and now ran vainly trying to catch up to their panic-stricken teams mate. The members of Team VVnW reacted immediately. Mike Tschanz, having sighted the swimmer, ran to the waters edge and jumped onto her, still wearing his rucksack. Marc ran downstream and prepared to throw his rope to catch them as they came by. Bob, seeing Mike go in after the racer, went after Mike and grabbed a hold of Mike while keeping contact with the shoreline. Together, they managed to pull the racer, unhurt but shaken, from the river.
The power and danger of the river had certainly made itself clear. Having talked briefly with Team Marines and ensuring all was okay, VVnW now approached the crossing with a heightened sense of caution. Sam, having witnessed Team Marines near fatal mishap and having the least whitewater experience on the team, expressed her concern about getting across. The team scouted the river and came up with a plan to get her across by securing a rope to the far side and using the current to swing her across to the other bank. Light was disappearing quickly and the team began to rush to beat the darkness. The team prepped the boats and Mike ferried across, stretching a throw rope as he went. On the far side, he secured the roped to an anchor log. Bob positioned himself downstream with a throw rope and Marc held the raft as Sam got situated. When she was ready, Marc released the boat into the current. The boat quickly began to swing across, as planned. Sam shifted in the boat and accidentally dipped her paddle into the water upstream of the raft. The river was merciless. The water immediately slammed into the paddle, which pressed into the upstream side of the raft down into the water and rapidly swamped it. The raft was practically ripped from underneath her and Sam found herself in the river. She retained control of the rope and paddle and continued the swing to the far shore where Mike grabbed her and pulled her onto the bank. The raft shot down a western braid of the river and the rucksack went floating down the channel where Bob was positioned. Bob and Marc chased the rucksack, initially thinking it was Sam, and then realizing it wasn’t her as it slipped under a strainer on the far bank and got wrapped up in submerged branches.
While Sam recovered the throw ropes, Mike worked his way down the far shore and was happily surprised to find that the raft, now swamped with water, had eddied out a quarter mile downstream. He then moved back to Sam and together they entered the next channel in waist deep, fast moving water. Sam displayed her trademark fortitude, as she didn’t hesitate to confront the treacherous crossing despite her recent swim. Mike and Sam safely gained the far side of the channel while Marc ferried across to the strainer, which had trapped the rucksack. Edging out on the pile of branches, he located the rucksack on the downstream side of the strainer in a heavy flow of water. Rather than exposing himself to the adrenalin rush of sudden trip down the river, he moved back and coordinated with Mike to come to his position and belay him with a rope as he recovered the rucksack.
A long period of time had elapsed since Team VVnW had left PC5. Roman Dial, the race director, grew concerned. Accompanied by Kevin Armstrong, they walked the route and located Team VVnW in the midst of the rucksack recovery. It was now dark, and headlamps now lit the riverside as VVnW prepared to get the last piece of gear and continue on to PC6. Roman made an assessment of the situation and suggested that the team move back to PC5. The team refused to go without recovering the rucksack, concerned that it could break free during the night and cost them their race. Roman, a racer himself, appreciated their position and agreed to assist. He ferried to Sam’s location and then paddled her down to the gravel bar where the strainer held on to the rucksack. Enroute to the gravel bar, the raft tangled with a second strainer upstream of their destination and Sam, for the second time that night, was unceremoniously dumped into the water. Disoriented by the darkness, Sam stood and began to walk towards the center of the river, thinking it was the shore. The shouting of her teammates quickly corrected her direction and she made her way back to land. Mike followed, making the crossing without incident. Roman worked down to the strainer holding the rucksack. Without hesitation, he launched himself into the water downstream of the strainer, sliding hand over hand down the long into the river. Reaching the rucksack he grabbed a hold of it. Immediately, the rucksack broke free and Roman was pulled out into the river. Being a skilled swift water swimmer, he quickly recovered, barrel rolled and reached the shore, dragging the rucksack with him. Upon his return to PC5, Roman closed the river to any more crossings.
13 August 02
With everything recovered, the team reconsolidated and agreed unanimously to retreat back to PC5 where the comfort of a large fire now beckoned. Despite all the drama, the team had now gained 7th place due to the difficulties encountered by Team Marines and ARSOF-Lilly. Back at PC5 by around 0030 hrs, the team hunkered down for a few hours of sleep, still in dry suits and sleeping on top of pack rafts during a steady rain….an approach which proved to be hardly conducive to quality rest. By 0330 hrs, the team was up and moving. The lucky ones had secured maybe 1.5 hours of sleep. By 0430, they had regrouped and headed back on trail while everyone else slept on. The team was forced to wait at the same crossing point as the previous evening until Roman arrived on site to clear the river. As soon as he arrived, the team was on its way. The river had dropped slightly. VVnW crossed quickly and moved on to PC 6 by 0556 hrs., prepared and confident to cross the main channel of the Delta and continue the race.
Mike scouted ahead of the team and selected a crossing point. The team crossed cautiously, keenly aware of the tenuous nature of packrafting, but accomplished the task without incident. They recovered the rafts, changed into trekking gear as two other teams crossed the river, and then moved through PC7, departing at 0807 in 7th place. Team Bates, immediately behind VVnW, was not so lucky. During the crossing, the river claimed raft and a large amount of equipment, disqualifying them from the race. The gear was later recovered.
From PC7, the team followed an unnamed dry river basin west into the mountains, the picked up an ATV trail. The weather was the best they had seen since the start of the race and the racers stripped down as their route rapidly gained altitude, moving up to approximately 3000 ft to a small cluster of private cabins, where the night before Team Speedy Brat and Team Allied Spirit had spent the evening. During this climb, Team Tri West Army passed VVnW as they refilled bladders in a mountain stream. Moving at an impressive pace, Tri West Army quickly outdistanced VVnW. Before reaching the cabins, VVnW veered west, selecting a route that would take them off the ATV trail, up a spur and over a ridgeline at 5000 ft and then drop down into PC8.
This was the team’s first exposure to the Alaskan tundra and it was a far cry to say they loved it! They were also greeted along the spur by numerous caribou and even if a few curious and verbal martins. Movement was slow up the ridgeline, but the team’s navigation was accurate despite a difficult route selection. Marc, the team’s navigator, was challenged by the lack of detail presented by the small scale of the map (1:63 360…1 inch equaled 1 mile) as well as the age of the map. The last update of the map was done in 1956 and they no longer accurately reflected vegetation, drainage, roads or man made features. This required extra attention to detail in terrain association. Navigation was further challenged by the team’s inexperience on the type of terrain, which gave them no accurate reference on how much distance they could cover in the tundra for a given period of time. Walking in the tundra was like snowshoeing; with every step you sank six to twelve inches. VVnW dropped into PC8 at 1727 hours in 8th place, just in time to be visited by a Black Hawk Helicopter carrying a film crew. Knowing they were on camera was motivation enough and the team stepped out towards the McGinnis Glacier.
Due to poor weather, smoke for massive forest fires and limited snow accumulation, the fixed ropes section of the course had been cancelled, so the team was required to move directly to PC12. Team VVnW was well prepared and excited for this section and it was a major disappointment when this section was cancelled. The route crossed the McGinnis Glacier and presented the team with some truly incredible scenery as the walked in the snowy shadows of Mount Moffit and McGinnis Peak. Since their last contact with Tri West Army, VVnW had seen no other teams. This leg was no exception until PC12 came into sight. As VVnW approached, they sighted Team Williams entering PC12. VVnW picked up their pace as much as was feasible in the difficult, rocky moraine at the base of McGinnis glacier. Team Williams must have also sighted VVnW as they exited PC12 equally fast. VVnW reach PC12 at 2120 hrs still in 8th Place.
From PC 12, the team moved down steep moraine then up the side of an extremely steep, eroded hill mass in an attempt to gain altitude as the approached the pass south west of Mount Pillsbury. The selected route was the steepest terrain the team had covered, but VVnW attained the necessary altitude, despite the fatigue that was building in the team. As the team contoured the hill mass to the pass, the rain began to build and light began to fade. They hoped to reach the pass before dark, but lost light quicker than they gained ground. VVnW reached the river basin that would guide them up the pass, but the terrain was difficult to negotiate given the darkness and the condition of the team.
14 August 02
At around 0030 hrs, the team opted to seek shelter and get some sleep. Barely suitable terrain was found and the team put up their shelter to seek some respite from the rain as they slept. During the night, the temperature dropped and snow mixed with the rain. The team shared the two sleeping bags they carried but warmth was hard to come by and sleep was poor, further contributing to the building fatigue and sleep deprivation within the team. The team broke camp at 0430 and moved out by 0500 hrs, eager for the warmth of exertion. Daylight eased the move up river basin, and the team quickly moved through the pass, where a small herd of Dall sheep greeted them. A new day, the privilege of seeing the sheep, and the opportunity to lose instead of gain elevation breathed new life into the weary racers. The team’s pace quickened as they descended down to the next moraine and skirted the Alder choked river basin, which brought them in to PC13 at 1437 hrs.
After more than 27 hours and over 30 miles of trekking, Team VVnW was more than happy to get off their feet and pack raft the 6 miles from PC 13 to PC 14. A lighthearted spirit encompassed the team as they almost casually inflated their rafts and pushed off into the river. Prior to arriving at the race, the team had struggled for opportunities to train on pack rafting. Low water levels inhibited every opportunity and no member of the team had ever encountered rivers of Alaskan magnitude, let alone rafted them. This was truly a new experience and the team relished it, as the current quickly swept them downstream. This section proved to be a steep learning curve as the team struggled to stay together as they navigated numerous braids, shallow points, and gravel bars. Two of the rafts partially deflated, but were reinflated without further incident other than some bruised bottoms, especially Bob, who found the sharpest rock to become intimate with. As they progressed, the team’s performance and confidence improved and they floated in to PC 14 at 1522 hrs.
The movement from PC 14 to PC 15 backtracked the same terrain where the team had nearly lost their gear (and Sam!), but the water level was lower, and the distance was quickly covered. Team VVnW arrived into PC15, the second resupply point at 1619 hrs. This marked the completion of leg 1 of the course. The team was issued additional maps and new instructions to cover the remainder of the course. VVnW took just under 3 hours to take care of tired feet, repack gear, reload rations and eat as much as they could force down. Marc plotted the PCs for the remainder of the course and went over some route selection with the team as they did final preparations to complete the remainder of the course. Their next leg would consist of trekking and pack rafting over an estimated 30 miles and 6 PC’s, followed by a mountain bike leg to a final pack rafting section. Spirits were high, although the team was tiring. Sam’s ankle was swollen from a minor sprain and some minor blisters had surfaced, but nothing that seemed to threaten the race. Everyone swapped shoes, dried out their feet and put on fresh socks.
At 1906 hrs, Team VVnW
left PC15 in 7th place.
Nine teams had already dropped, been disqualified.
Two teams were continuing the course unranked due to losses of
team members. VVnW
bushwhacked due east through the forest, gaining the Alaskan Pipeline in
43 minutes, then moved along the service road of the Alaskan Pipeline.
While traveling the pipeline, they encountered a security guard
who informed them about Coal Mine Road, which eventually wound its way
to Jarvis Creek, the location of PC16.
Coal Mine Road did not exist on the map VVnW carried, but the
team was confident that the road followed the general route they had
selected. They moved at a
high rate of march along the pipeline up to Coal Mine Road.
During this movement, Mike began to encounter some blistering and
foot pain. At the
intersection with Coal Mine Road, Team VVnW bumped into Team SCAAR.
SCAAR was an unranked team due to the loss of a team member who
broke his clavicle during the first mountain bike section.
They walked the trail together until Ober Creek.
The team was moving strong, but Mike’s foot problems were
getting progressively worse. At
Ober Creek, Marc, basing his estimate on the distance he believed they
had covered, mistook the creek for Jarvis Creek, where the PC was
located. After reviewing
the map with Bob and Mike, the team searched up and down the river for
the PC to no avail. Team
SCAAR initially shadowed the search, then slipped away unseen.
Frustrated by their failure to find PC 16 where they expected it
and quickly losing light, the team decided to continue on the road they
had initially traveled on. The
route took them up a steep rise towards a high ridgeline.
At this point, the team was moving by headlamp, Mike’s feet
were bothering him substantially and he experienced extreme dizziness
with difficulty orienting, which they attributed to a combination of
sleep and low blood sugar. A
light rain had started and the temperature had dropped substantially.
Everyone was extremely tired and it began to cloud their
judgment. About 300 meters
short of the summit of the saddle, the team opted to turn back, move
down to Ober creek and get some sleep.
Had they been more attentive, they would have realized they were
on the right trail and were only around 1-2 miles from the PC. Had they
attained the high ground, they may have even seen the fire burning at
the PC. But hindsight is
wonderful. At Ober Creek, the team started a fire, ate, pulled some
personal maintenance and tried to sleep until first light. The team had planned to walk all night and was therefore
traveling light with no sleeping bags.
The temperature dropped to about 25 degrees accompanied by a
10-15 mph breeze. Sleep
quality was again very poor. Despite
the discomfort, the team was blessed with a brief viewing of the
15 August 02
By first light, the cold spurred the team to get moving as soon as possible. During the night, a heavy frost had set frozen everyone’s camelbak tubing, frustrating water consumption until they managed to thaw. The team regrouped and reviewed the map and came to the conclusion they had moved too far north on the road, a road that didn’t exist on the map. They decided to move back on the road to high ground, follow the ridgeline south then drop back in to the river basin where they now believed the PC was. VVnW followed this plan, struggling through some difficult terrain and eventually gaining the base of the spur where they expected to find the PC. We spent several hours scanning the area. Shooting an intersection off of Donnelly Dome and the Granite Mountains gave the team a very rough location that much further west than they had believed. Finding no PC and lacking confidence full confidence in the resection, VVnW moved back west with the intent to gain some terrain they could definitely identify. Moving back along an ATV trail, they connected into a dirt road, which they followed South Southeast for a period of time until we running into another team, the Tom Wood Flyers. This confirmed VVnW’s location…3 miles due West of the PC. The team reoriented due east and began to dead reckon across the tundra, eventually intersecting the very same ATV trail they had traveled west on some hours earlier. This trail followed Sargents Creek through the saddle that had been the route the team had initially planned before diverting onto Coal Mine Road. They continued to push on the route, having fully regained their bearings. Unfortunately, Mike’s feet had degraded progressively, Bob was feeling the effects of dehydration and the team could no longer maintain pace. Tom Wood Flyer’s moved well out of eyesight as VVnW strove to make time, fully aware that the cut off time was near. If they failed to make the cut off, they would be disqualified. It was to no avail. The team couldn’t move at the rate necessary to make the PC, although the distance was one that they could normally have made with ease, had their feet been healthy. VVnW gradually made Jarvis creek and worked around to PC16. They arrived 50 minutes after the cut off, 1 hour and 6 minutes after Tom Wood Flyers had made the PC. Race officials informed the team that they could not continue because they had exceeded the cut off. Mike’s feet were pretty bad and Marc, the team captain, requested he be extracted, and argued with the race official to all the rest of the team to continue in an unranked capacity. The official would not allow it; the team would be required to walk back out to PC15. They were informed that there was no way to extract Mike, he had to walk it out, but luck was with VVnW. A Blackhawk was in the area and was diverted to PC16 to extract Mike. The whole team managed to hitch a ride as well. They were dropped at Greeley Army Airfield, where the race had begun…VVnW’s race was over.
Mike was taken to Ft Wainwright were he was diagnosed with a severe case of cellutis in both feet and given intravenous antibiotics. Marc got a ride out to PC21 and spent the last day of the race volunteering at the PC and assisting teams as they came out of the mountains and transitioned to mountain bikes. He found it rewarding to be able to assist these few teams who managed to overcome the challenges which had stopped so many of us. In the end, only 7 of 22 teams completed the course as a team. Two other partial teams completed the course unranked. Three teams that left PC15 after Team VVnW never even made it to PC16. Tom Wood Flyers, who made the cut off at PC16 by 15 minutes, became lost as they navigated to PC 17. They were forced to turn back and returned to PC16 the next day and were unable to complete the course.
Team VVnW carried rubbings from the Vietnam Memorial bearing CPT Versace’s name throughout the course. They struggled against the laws of nature and the limits of endurance to bring honor to his memory. The experience was invaluable, unforgettable, and thoroughly enjoyable. The team’s spirit never faltered and they refused to give up though the course claimed victory in this first engagement. CPT Versace’s fortitude and intrepidity in the face of adversity remains the cornerstone of Team VVnW. His memory remains their inspiration and they will continue to strive towards the goal of carrying his name across the finish line. If not in this race, then in the next….the battle lines are drawn, Team VVnW will not yield.
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."